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The Classic Toy That Evolved From a Naval Ship Part

by: Geoff Ficke

“It’s Slinky, It’s Slinky, for Fun It’s a Wonderful Toy,
“It’s Slinky. It’s Slinky, It’s Fun for a Girl or Boy”.

The above portion of the famous Slinky advertisement is ingrained in the mind of almost every child that grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s. To this day, Slinky remains one of the most popular children’s toys of all times. In a toy market redolent of electronic toys and games and theme products, the simple, wire coil Slinky remains a classic.

Slinky, like many consumer product mainstays, did not start its commercial life as a toy. During World War ll, Richard James worked as a naval engineer. One of the projects he participated in was the development of a meter to monitor the performance of ships engines. One day, while working with coiled steel wire in his lab he dropped a coil. He immediately noticed that the dropped coil of thin gauge wire acted in an amusing manner, kind of jiggly. This planted the idea for a product concept.

Richard James and his wife Betty began the process of developing the wire coil into a toy. It took the James’ two years to produce the first units and research gauged steel to perfect the unique performance features of the Slinky. Betty James came up with the name Slinky. In Swedish, the word “Slinky” means sinuous, or sleek, exactly descriptive of the Slinky appearance and use.

The public unveiling of the Slinky took place at Gimbels Department Store in Philadelphia during the 1946 Christmas season. Mr. James was afraid that the Slinky might not sell so he actually had a friend attend the initial demonstration to purchase several units. No need, the Slinky was an immediate success, selling over 400 pieces in the first 90 minutes the product was on sale. A toy star was born.

I write often about products that bridge categories, beginning life in one space and then evolving and leaping to another as novel uses are additionally discovered. The process of innovation is not solely dependent on originality. New uses for old products can lead to amazing success, fame and profit. Keep your eyes open. Somewhere in your work, play or environment there just might be an amazing opportunity, ripe for the picking.